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USN, Defense Industry looking for 6th Generation Fighter concepts


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USN, Industry Seek New Concepts For 6th-generation Fighter


WASHINGTON — The makeup of the US Navy’s carrier air wings will start to shift in a few years as the F-35C joint strike fighter begins to enter service. The typical carrier flight deck will see both F-35s and F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets in operation. But thoughts already are turning to what lies beyond the F-35’s fifth-generation aviation technology, to the planes that in the 2030s will begin to replace the F/A-18s flying with US and international services.

Rear Adm. Bill Moran, the Navy’s director of air warfare in the Pentagon, offered his thoughts on the future aircraft, dubbed the F/A-XX, during an interview in the Pentagon.

Q. Where are you today on what you think the sixth-generation aircraft is?

A. We don’t talk in terms of generations of airplanes. It’s really ill-defined in my view, and mostly wrapped around stealth technology. So we are not in the business of trying to design and build a sixth-generation air wing. I do not even talk about sixth generation. But I do talk about where our aircraft quantities start to run out of service life.

The bulk of our force today are Super Hornets and they will be there for a long time, out until the end of the 2020s, early 2030s timeframe. But then that need starts to occur when the airplanes reach 9,000 hours of service life. When that happens, we are either going to buy a bunch more F-35Cs, or we are going to have to start looking at capability that we can replace the capability set, the mission set that the F/A-18 E/Fs do today.

We are taking an approach called FA-XX. We’ll [start a study] next year that would assess all those missions the F/A-18 E/F plugs into, in the air wing. How could we capture those capabilities in another way instead of buying another very high-end, very expensive platform replacement? Certainly there will be platforms involved, but do they have to be platforms that look and feel and operate much like an F/A-18 E/F or an F-35 does today? Could it be done differently? Could we do the mission sets different?

For example, we talk a lot to NAVAIR [Naval Air Systems Command] about future designs being more of a truck that has an open architecture design, so you can plug different sensors, different payloads and weapons into that for a specific mission, and be able to move those sensors and payloads around so you can do multiple different missions on different days, or different sorties, instead of trying to build everything into a jet — that becomes very expensive.

It is very much in line with [the direction of Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations], where he talked about payloads over platforms. In other words, the payload piece is what is important. Getting the right payload in the right place, at the right time is also critical. But what kind of truck that payload rides around on is what we are really after.

So we want to look holistically at all of the things that contribute to a mission. They include space-based. They include other platforms that are already part of the air wing — E-2D Hawkeyes, EA-18G Growlers — and the rotary wing component. How do we do a system-of-systems look across all of those platforms, and decide what capability gaps we need to cover as the F/A-18 E/Fs start to fall off?

Now we try to tell industry that we are just opening up the aperture to have a conversation about what they think the art of the possible is. I have had some great discussions with industry partners about this. Do not just look to walk in here with a new design, a sixth-generation aircraft. I am not interested in that conversation yet. I am interested in what are the technologies that you think you can bring? And specifically propulsion, which drives future capability. That is the timeline driver. If you are looking at a game-changing propulsion capability, whether it is long dwell, fast and high, all of those types of attributes to a propulsion capability, we have got to start working that now to lead to whatever the truck looks like.

And as you are developing that propulsion capability, then you can start to look at what kind of payloads? What kind of sensors? What kind of integrating capability that you want to develop across the air wing, so you continue to have the same effect of a different shape, a different mix of an air wing in the future.

Q. Do you think about unmanned aerial vehicles?

A. You could look at small UAVs launched off a truck that do different mission sets currently done by larger platforms that are very costly or expensive. There are lots of [concept of operations] questions that come into play as we study this. And of course, now you are trying to project a threat that is in the 2030s and ’40s and even in the ’50s — and what that threat could evolve to. That is going to drive a lot of how you view what the air wing ought to look like that far out.

So it really is our opportunity right now, while we are building F-35s, while we are continuing to mature F/A-18 E/Fs to deal with the ’20s and ’30s. What are we looking at beyond that?

When you look at normal development plans that take an average of 17 years for aviation, we are at that point right now if we are truly going to get to a 2030 capability. But we are not bought into [whether] it has to be a high-end fighter, or a high-end anything. What we do know is that we need to design it to allow us the most flexibility in how we operate that, whatever it is in the future.

Do not wait for us to tell you line by line what the requirement is. We are way too early in that. I need to understand what you think are the possibilities in propulsion, sensors, networks, architecture. All of those things have to be designed into whatever this thing might look like in the future.

Q. You issued a request for information (RFI) about a year ago for the next fighter. What were the responses?

A. Official responses are highly classified; we are parsing through with a team at NAVAIR and in our Special Programs branch. And they are intriguing. They run the gamut of, here is our aircraft design of the future, to here is a capability design of the future. And somewhere in there is our trade space and how we are going to view this.

But again, it just opens up the conversation. We are very early in this. And what we hope to do is now take that process into an analysis of alternatives, a formal AOA, that will take a couple of years to complete because it is very complex. We hope to get it started in 2014.

Q. The logical responders to the RFI would be Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman. Are you interested also in hearing from conceptual groups, not necessarily aircraft manufacturers?

A. The major folks have all jumped in, and to the degree to which we have maybe some others that might want to contribute in a different way, I could not tell you right now. But I want to hear from people who think completely outside our normal acquisition process.

Q. What is your thinking about a manned versus unmanned fighter?

A. What we said in the RFI was, we want you to think manned, unmanned and optionally manned. We are not trying to drive a solution here. And we recognize there might be different mixes of those options that are more effective in the ’30s and ’40s than what we have today. But we want to understand why you think that. What are the capabilities they bring? And then let’s have a discussion.

Q. Are you driving to introduce an aircraft around 2030?

A. Yes. See, everybody wants to dive right back into, do you want a platform? And my answer is, I know I am going to start to lose the capability set that Super Hornet brings to the air wing today, starting in the late ’20s or early ’30s. So what capabilities can we start designing that replace that, the mission sets that the Super Hornet does today? When you think there are at least nine or 10 different missions the Super Hornet contributes to today, does it have to be done by the same very advanced, complex capable airplane platform?

Q. Do you envision that say, in 2040, the FA-XX will completely replace the F-35 along with the Super Hornets? Or will it serve alongside the F-35?

A. This effort is not at all to replace the F-35 — it is almost if you flip it upside down. When you look out in the ’30s and ’40s, what we are aiming to do is to complement what the F-35 brings, much like the F-35 will complement what the F-18s currently bring and deliver in the air wing. Today, there is a graceful, gradual replacing of legacy Hornets with F-35s. As the F-18 population starts to run out of service life, we have got to bring in a new capability that complements what the F-35 brings.
Wouldn't you think that they would want to get the 5th generation fighter on line first?
cupper said:
Wouldn't you think that they would want to get the 5th generation fighter on line first?

The US doesn't work like our procurement system. They actually look ahead while the current generation is being fielded, so they're not stuck waiting 15 years for R&D to catch up while they're using antiquated equipment.

There's probably a small cubicle in the US somewhere making plans for robot-driven hovercraft with laser weapons.
They should hire me.  I made a scaled down version earlier today in my binder.
A related update: seems the USAF wants a 6th generation fighter by the 2030s.


Air Force Looks Ahead to 6th-Generation Fighter

Stars and Stripes | Jul 30, 2014 | by Jon Harper
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Even before the Air Force's new F-35 "fifth-generation" fighter jet is combat-ready, the service is looking ahead to what comes next.

At an Air Force Association breakfast Tuesday, Gen. Michael Hostage, the head of Air Combat Command, said studies are underway to come up with a concept for a sixth-generation fighter plane.

The aircraft could be completely different than any of its predecessors, Hostage said at the meeting in Arlington, Virginia. "It isn't necessarily another single-seat fighter."
"Be thinking in terms of what is the capability that future technology will bring to us that will allow us to provide air dominance. ... If that's a single button on a keyboard that makes all the adversaries fall to the ground, I'm OK with that," he said.
He raised the possibility that the new jet will be equipped with laser weapons, also known as "directed energy" capabilities.
"There is some amazing developments in that arena," he said. "I think it holds great promise."

The Air Force is aiming to put the sixth-generation fighter into the skies in the 2030s.

Northrop getting a headstart even if the next such fighter competition is decades away.

Defense News

Northrop Developing 6th Gen Fighter Plans
By Aaron Mehta

6:46 p.m. EST January 21, 2015

LOS ANGELES — Northrop Grumman has stood up a pair of teams dedicated to developing a "sixth-generation" fighter for both the Navy and Air Force, years before the US Navy or Air Force intends to issue requests for information on potential replacements for current aircraft.

It's an aggressive move that Tom Vice, president of Northrop's aerospace division, hopes will pay off in a big way for his company.

"Northrop Grumman will compete for the next generation fighter," Vice flatly declared, noting that there is a program manager already leading a team of Northrop staffers on the program.

When asked whether he envisioned Northrop acting as a prime contractor on a future fighter, he added "of course."

"Cyber resilient"?

Defense News

Northrop Lays Out Vision for ‘Cyber Resilient’ Next-Gen Fighter
Lara Seligman 12:51 p.m. EST January 15, 2016

PALMDALE, Calif — Northrop Grumman is still ramping up its work on the Pentagon’s most advanced fighter jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but the company is already thinking about what comes next.

Tom Vice, president of Northrop’s aerospace sector, this week laid out his vision for a long-range, potentially unmanned fighter, featuring laser weapons and advanced “cyber resiliency” to counter threats in the increasingly connected world of 2030.

The Pentagon has begun early conceptual work on a sixth-generation fighter, intended to replace the Air Force’s F-22s and the Navy’s F/A-18s in the 2030s. Early last year, the Air Force began a deep-dive process that will eventually determine what technology and capabilities it will fund to ensure air dominance in the future.

Here is Northrop's vision of the next generation fighter expected to be unveiled during the Super Bowl.Cost in the end will be key.Cost shut down the F-22 and the USAF would love to hit the do over button.

Typical for the USAF to want this for themselves, just like the F-22. So there won't be USN or USMC versions.

Defense News

Sixth-Gen Fighter Likely Won’t Be Common Across Services, Air Force General Says
Lara Seligman and Phillip Swarts, Defense News, Military Times 6:29 p.m. EST February 12, 2016

WASHINGTON — In a departure from the dual-service F-35 effort, the Pentagon’s sixth-generation fighter jet likely won’t be common between the US Air Force and the US Navy, a top Air Force general said Friday.

The next generation of fighters likely will be designed as separate aircraft across the services because the Air Force and Navy will have unique mission requirements in future decades, said Lt. Gen. James “Mike” Holmes, Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and requirements. The sixth-generation fighter jet will replace the Air Force’s F-22s and the Navy’s F/A-18s in the 2030s.

“We will have some different requirements for what we need based on the different things we are expected to provide for the joint force,” Holmes told reporters. “We will use common technologies and maybe some common things, but at this point we think it will be a different enough mission that it won’t be the same airplane.”

S.M.A.: With good reason--see based on RAND study:

F-35, or “Do Joint Fighter Programs Save Money?”

Bill Sweetman of AvWeek raises a lot of points:

Opinion: Defining The Next Fighter
It’s the process, stupid

The first thing to do about the sixth-generation fighter is to stop calling it a sixth-generation fighter. Ever since Lockheed Martin borrowed the “fifth-generation” brand from the Russians a decade ago, it has muddied the debate. It is at best an example of begging the question—that is, assuming as fact (“high-band stealth is worth the money and everything else is obsolete”) what needs to be demonstrated.

Labels aside, it is becoming popular to talk about what comes after the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). This is a pressing issue for the U.S. Navy because the F-35C nominally replaces the F/A-18A-D Classic Hornet, not the Super Hornet. The Air Force’s program-of-record, 1,763-jet F-35 buy stretches into the 2040s, but long before that the service must perform a midlife update (MLU) of the F-22 Raptor or replace it.

It’s tempting to start drawing supersonic-cruising, long-range, agile aircraft with all-aspect, wideband stealth, powered by variable-cycle engines (see photo). That’s what major airplane contractors do, because it is a high-margin business with formidable barriers to entry for new competitors. The problem is building that wonder-plane for less money than the Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B).

The timing of a new start in the 2020s—when the Pentagon is thinking of funding next-generation fighter demonstrations—will be unique: nearly 30 years behind JSF, which was only 10 years behind the Advanced Tactical Fighter/Advanced Tactical Aircraft projects that led to the F-22 and the canceled A-12 Avenger II. But at the same time, the so-called fourth-generation fighters should be alive and well, with the Saab JAS 39E entering service and Rafale and Typhoon entering MLU territory.

Any new development has to learn from past mistakes. The demand for agility, as well as stealth and supersonic cruise, left the F-22 with big tails, heavy thrust-vectoring nozzles and disappointing range. In 1995, optimistic numbers made it look as if the constraints of a short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing JSF would not cause difficulties for the other two versions, but they did.

A new manned fighter will be defined in an era when unmanned air vehicles (UAV) are ubiquitous and unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV) are a reality. UCAVs will not replace manned aircraft but will influence the design of the next fighters by relieving them of some missions, such as suppression/destruction of enemy air defenses or stand-in electronic attack...

Lots more.

MarkOttawa said:
S.M.A.: With good reason--see based on RAND study:

F-35, or “Do Joint Fighter Programs Save Money?”


Except that report was quickly discredited by using 2010 CAPE Numbers (the whole 1.5 trillion dollar figure), which since have been revised downwards. If you utilize some of OSD's current estimates and compare it to RAND's estimates for what three program may cost, they are already 15% below that 

And a bit of perspective: most programs start as individual service requirements until OSD or Congress mandates programs be expanded or consolidated. F-35 was no different, being an amalgamation of several programs around 1992~1995: CALF, MRF, A/X.

Typically service chiefs want to keep their budgets separate: that's been true since the 1947 National Security Act. In the late 80s and 1990s you saw greater movement towards joint programs due to Goldwater Nichols and the drawdowns at the end of the cold war.

However there has been a movement towards greater service responsibility for programs, which is a major focus of the recent NDAA (Thornberry's efforts). Frankly, given aircraft technology trends, its even more likely that whatever does come next will be a joint program. The main cost drivers are software/avionics: that should be developed commonly to save costs and ensure interoperability. It is likely that you'll see greater customization of the aircraft's aerodynamics than with the F-35, but that's really a diminishing part of the cost/development process.
Big USAF new fighter re-think?

USAF backs off sixth-gen 'fighter' in quest for air supremacy

The US Air Force will begin an extensive campaign of prototyping and experimentation relating to new air superiority technologies, including new aircraft types, after completing a wide-ranging examination of future air battle concepts and weaponry.

According to service officials, there’s no “silver bullet” or “exquisite” next-generation fighter jet that will single-handedly evade and counter the types of surface-to-air, air-to-air, anti-satellite, electronic attack and cyber threats that are springing up around the world, particularly if going up against a nuclear-armed state like Russia or China.

Instead, the air force will proceed with many parallel technology development efforts, like new propulsion systems, airframes, directed energy weapons and hypersonic missiles, to develop a “family of systems” – including longer-range, higher-payload platforms to launch volleys of weapons at targets from “standoff” distances and others that will swoop in for direct attacks.

Lt Gen James “Mike” Holmes, USAF deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, says his team is moving away from terms like “fighter” and “next-generation” and will instead look at completely different ways of doing air warfare in the future.

His personal ambition would be to have an “operationally representative configuration” of this future air superiority network in place by 2025. The service has even delayed by one year its F-X or Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) analysis of alternatives to avoid ending up with requirements for another generation of fighter...

There is a movement toward reopening F-22 production.Then of course the USN/USAF still doesnt have the F-35 issues resolved.Its an example I think of the failure of joint procurement.Eventually it will get worked out but at significant additional cost.

The US Should Never Develop Another Joint Fighter

6th Generation USAF, USN Fighters: Don’t Try Joint Like F-35